Monday, December 10, 2007

surprise! love hotel

On Friday nite, I helped orchestrate a semi-elaborate surprise party; in Honjo we had two birthday boys last week, Owen and Jeff. We planned a dinner on Wednesday night to throw them off course, hinting maybe we would do something to celebrate on the weekend as well. Well, Friday rolled around, and although we frequently go out all together after our japanese class, we all had our excuses this time. With a plan that included Phil claiming he anticipated getting lucky and needing to investigate love hotels with our japanese-skilled sempai, Amelie, we weren't sure they would take the bait and agree to tag along "for a laugh". But they did, and they arrived at the love hotel room (with the guise of seeing if it was up to Phil's standards) we had reserved, decorated, and been hiding in, to quite a surprise. It was both Owen and Jeff's first time having a surprise party thrown for them. Karaoke hilarity ensued.

Maybe I should backtrack a little. "What is a love hotel?" you may ask. Well, in Japan, young people do no move out of their parents' house until they are married, and some even continue living there as married couples, with several generations under one roof. This leaves little room for, shall we say, getting to know one another better when dating, etc., and thus many couples seek private spaces outside their home in which to do so. Enter the love hotel. Now, these are essentially normal hotels, but with the added bonuses of being decorated in crazy ways (even Hello Kitty-themed, if you're into that), having in-room karaoke, elaborate bathrooms, etc. and you can rent them out for a "rest" (short time) or "stay" (overnight). There are seemingly dozens of these hotels everywhere, (there's probably at least 10 in/near Honjo alone) and they stand out from normal hotels because of their usually ridiculous decorations, ie. one of the ones near Honjo is called "Seaside Story" and is tropical island-themed complete with giant palm trees.

Previous to the surprise party, I had heard that their reservation systems were all computerized, with either no human interaction whatsoever, or confessional style where you cannot see the face of the receptionist when purchasing a room, for the purpose of saving the client from any feelings of embarrasment. But here in Akita, it turned out to be a different story. Amelie made all the arrangements, and was led around in a very hands-on fashion by the maangers (she researched 2 different ones), so no chance of anonymity there. There was however car anonymity amongst the clients, each room had it's own curtained parking spot, so that other patrons could not see who was else there...

Oh but let me describe the pretty amazing room. We walked in to see a lovely lighted Christmas tree (really puts you in the mood) and a gorgeous white duveted bed with white transparent fabric hanging gracefully over it from the ceiling (gracefully, I should say, until Phil managed to gracelessly accidentally rip them down). There was a TV with karaoke, with 2 mics so you could sing duets with your loved one, and up a step was the door to the enormous bathroom. A jacuzzi tub and shower for 2 were enclosed in a steam room, all in all I think the bathroom might have been the same size as the bedroom. Anyway we had a fun night of celebrating.

I can't believe I'm leaving for Thailand next week - it is totally surreal to think that in a short time I will be lying on the beach IN THAILAND, going snorkeling, visiting temples in Bangkok etc. CRAZY!

Friday, December 7, 2007

baby, it's cold outside

akita is getting ridiculous amounts of coverage in the nytimes. here they talk about the waning economies in rural Japan. I think it's quite true. also, in case you missed the last link, here's a photo from the fashion photo shoot from that travel article. you can compare with my own pics of the exact same spot (taken back over autumnal equinox).

Last weekend I visited some galleries in akita city with a friend. One featured a long series of fascinating photographs of 1950s akita. Wow! Some of them looked like they were taken in ancient times, and there was a funny one of a mary kay/avon type lady looking like a 1950s american housewife, holding court over a group of women dressed very traditionally, teaching them how to apply make-up in a tatami room. another gallery was in an amazing space overlooking the canal that runs through the city.

That night, I attended what I had thought would be a professional classical ballet performance with Cathy and Edel. No, it was a little girls' dance school end-of-year recital. About 30 little girls (some of whom turned out to be my students) ran around on stage doing what I could only describe as interpretive dance. The highlights for me were the two classical ballet numbers done by a few of the older girls, and the two christmas-themed jazz songs. The lowlight was a 45-minute interpretive dance to The Lion King, music complete with japanese lyrics. Weird, to say the least. But the craziest thing was thinking about how much the girls must have had to practice to memorize the 30 separate dances! In my day, you had one dance to one song to memorize for your recital, and that was plenty.

This past week at elementary school, I noticed that the 6th graders are particularly boisterous. They are in fact, the only kids I teach that I get the "too-cool-for-school" attitude from. They prefer to scream continuously and/or do pile ups. Today my JTE told me they had been talking about the Ozaki 6th graders (half of whom will move on to Higashi come April) at the staff meeting, and that they heard there were some bad eggs. They are worried and have started "preparing". I said I was sure Higashi would "whip them into shape" (an idiom my JTE really liked).

In other news, it's snowing (and melting) a lot. The local ski hill should be opening soon, and I hope to get at least one trip in before I leave for thailand (dec 19)!